With the season opener just two weeks away, it seems as though the head coach Tyronn Lue has somewhat finalized the Cleveland Cavaliers starting lineup. With a new-look roster that has much more depth than just last season, Lue has options. Tristan Thompson started all 96 games he played during the 2016-17 season (78 regular season, 18 postseason), but it looks as though the 26-year-old will come off bench this season. The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd has reported that Lue has decided to start newly acquired do-it-all forward Jae Crowder, moving Kevin Love to center and Thompson to the second unit.
This isn’t a drastic move for Lue, it’s just utilizing Crowder’s versatility to the best of his ability. The head coach has been thinking of different ways to use Crowder for almost a month, so it’s not a sudden change either. Keep in mind, prior to last season, Thompson came off the bench for much of James’ first two years back in Cleveland, too. He’s fine with the move and hopes that history repeats itself from when he last came off the bench.
Tristan‘s at peace with coming off the bench. “The last time I came off the bench, if history repeats itself, we’ll have a parade in June.”
— Scott @ WFNY (@WFNYScott) October 3, 2017
With Isaiah Thomas out until (at least) January, a starting lineup that consists of JR Smith, Jae Crowder, LeBron James, Kevin Love and either Dwyane Wade or Derrick Rose is the perfect one for the Cavs. But why is that, you ask?
The Cavs may have lost Kyrie Irving and his incredible under-the-rim talent to go along with his ball-handling and ability to make shots in the most critical moments, but when fully healthy, a good argument can be made that this year’s Cavs are much better than last year’s. They only lose Irving and have added so many good pieces, both that will start every night and who will come off the bench.
Due to the type of player Crowder is, you can utilize his versatility the best by having him start alongside James. On offense, you can have No. 23 be the four-man, which is an automatic advantage for the Cavs. He’s either faster than the power forward that will be guarding him or bigger and stronger than the small forward who he will go against. Defensively, Crowder is the type of player who can guard every position but center. At 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, the 27-year-old won’t be outmatched by many guards or forwards. In this era of basketball, switching on defense is a must if you want to succeed. With (most likely) Wade, Smith, Crowder, and James, that provides Lue with opportunities to switch almost every pick, which benefits the Cavs tremendously.
Offensively, the starting lineup will have three shooters and a slasher on the court alongside James. Crowder isn’t known as much of a shooter, but he connected on a career-best 39.8 percent of his shots from beyond the arc last season. He also shot a career-high 5.5 three-pointers per game, too. Even if that number goes down to around 35 percent, that’s still fine. Remember, Crowder will get plenty of wide-open opportunities given all the talent that he will be surrounded by in the starting lineup.
With that said, while James is the power forward on offense, he can return to defending the small forward on the other side of the ball while Crowder guard’s the opposing team’s four. No. 23 isn’t the same defender he once was, but he is still fully capable of stopping an opposing team’s small forward. Also, keep in mind, while Love could be a liability at times defensively, Smith can guard the opposing team’s point guard while Rose or Wade, who both aren’t known for their defense, can somewhat hide on the opponent’s small forward at times as well.
Whether Wade or Rose come off the bench, the Cavs’ second unit will be arguably the best it has ever been in the LeBron era. Cleveland will have Rose or Wade, Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Jose Calderon, Richard Jefferson, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, and Thompson off the bench. Whether they need shooting, versatility, defense, offense, or anything really, Lue has that on the bench. Throw in the fact that when Thomas returns to the starting lineup, it will add another bench piece, and it’s incredible just how deep this team is.
Love may be the starting center, but remember, in the end, it’s not about who starts the game, but who ends it. As the games go on, Lue will make adjustments, and with this Cavs team, adjustments will be easier due to how deep they are this year.